Turmeric and cumin are two spices commonly used in Indian cooking, adding vibrancy to curries, stews, and soups. Although people sometimes get them mixed up, they are unique ingredients with different characteristics. In this article, we’ll compare them, looking at their flavor, appearance, uses, benefits, and more. Let’s dive in.
What is the difference between turmeric and cumin?
Turmeric comes from a root that looks a lot like ginger and has a bitter, pungent flavor that adds an “earthy feel” to dishes. Cumin has a spicy, nutty taste with a lemony undertone. It is noticeably sharper and more intense than turmeric. This is important for a cook to understand as it impacts how versatile they are in the kitchen.
Turmeric can be found in a wide range of recipes without fear of overwhelming the dish; cumin can easily put a meal out of balance and is unsuitable for many applications. As an extreme example, adding a scoop of turmeric powder to a smoothie is an excellent idea, but for most, a burst of cumin flavor will be unpleasant.
The two spices have very different appearances and once you’ve used each of them once, you won’t mix them up again. When fresh, or un-processed, turmeric is a root that looks gnarly with a distinct orange shade. Once ground, it has a unique golden yellow color, perfect for adding a welcoming visual aspect to food or drinks. Unground cumin means you’ll use the seeds – they’re very small and yellowish-brown in color with little ridges running lengthways. Once ground, the spice powder has a slightly brighter hue but is still much darker than turmeric.
What is the difference between galangal and ginger?
Where can I buy these spices?
If you’re looking to buy ground turmeric or cumin, or cumin seeds then most supermarkets will stock them in the spice section. They’re also both available online in regular-sized jars and also in bulk packaging if you use them a lot in cooking.
Fresh cumin and turmeric aren’t as readily available in mainstream stores, although you may get lucky depending on where you live. Another good way to source the fresh version is to visit an Indian or Asian grocer.
Turmeric is a popular addition to Caribbean and Indian cuisine, but its uses are much more widespread though. Some of its best uses include the following:
- Add one teaspoon to soup, casserole, or rice to provide them with an irresistible golden tint.
- Infuse into hot water for a healthy hot beverage, or combine with milk to create golden milk.
- Blend two teaspoons with your favorite smoothie ingredients for an intense burst of earthy flavor and enhanced medicinal benefits.
- Bring curries and stir-fries to life with color and a deliciously warm, pungent flavor.
- Sprinkle into any baked goods before adding the wet ingredients.
Cumin is a much-loved ingredient in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, North African, and South American cooking. You can use this spice in many recipes, here are some idea starters:
- Toast the seeds at the start of making curry to release their aromatic flavor.
- Add to a pot of chili for added spiciness and an intense aroma.
- Use as part of a spice rub to enhance the flavor of meat, fish, or poultry.
- Sprinkle the seeds into rice (jeera rice) for added texture and flavor.
- Make an authentic warm and spicy falafel mix by adding cumin.
Nutrition and health benefits
Although turmeric has had much of the spotlight in recent years for its nutritional properties, cumin also has a range of useful health benefits. First, let’s take a look at a comparison of the nutritional values. You can see from the table below if you’re only using the occasional teaspoon in your cooking, the difference is minimal.
Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin which has various benefits including aiding digestion, providing anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, boosting immunity, and reducing depression.
Cumin is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The powder can potentially help aid digestion, relieve stress, enhance cognitive performance, and boost immunity.
Does cumin come from turmeric?
Turmeric is a root that comes from a flowering plant that is part of the ginger family, known as the Curcuma longa. The spice contains curcumin which is occasionally mixed up with the word cumin. However, cumin seed is a completely unrelated spice; it comes from the Cuminum cyminum plant.
Can they be used interchangeably?
Turmeric and cumin are both key ingredients in curry powder, so it’s fair to say their flavors complement each other well. But make no mistake, neither should be used as a substitute for the other. They have different flavor profiles and appearances which could create unpleasant dishes if you swapped one for the other.
Turmeric and cumin have are similar, in that they are both spices that are popular in Indian cooking and their texture is a similar consistency once ground. However, you will find their color and flavor are very different, and they serve different purposes in the kitchen.
Both of these spices would be an excellent addition to a well-rounded spice rack. It’s unlikely that either will have the chance to gather dust and get thrown out without using.